In his book Geography and World Power, published in 1917, the British geographer and educator James Fairgrieve described parts of central and eastern Europe as a “crush zone”.
The area was a buffer between two powerful states, Germany and Russia. When quarrels between those two erupted, Fairgrieve wrote, they often fought it out in the crush zone.
Today, this powerful image can help us to understand the situation Europe increasingly finds itself in. On the world stage Europe – that is, the EU and its satellites – is becoming a crush zone.
In the 19th century, European powers dominated the world. In the 20th, the United States became the dominant power. The 21st century is a multipolar world, with several centres of power.
The most important are the US, China and Europe. But there are also smaller, regional players, taking advantage of the fact that there is no longer a global policeman around: Russia, Turkey and Iran.
In this multipolar world everyone is connected to everyone. After a long phase of globalisation, countries have become highly-interdependent.
No one can afford to ignore this connectivity: no country can do without international financial flows or energy supply. This is what rivalry between the US and China, and also the rivalries between smaller powers, are focused on.
They use existing connections to one’s advantage while trying to sabotage them for one’s rivals.
This is a highly-sophisticated game: it has to be played in the system. It is fought on ‘home ground’, as it were: countries and non-state entities try to inflict damage on others within the same global system of which they themselves depend. No one, as the United Kingdom discovers now, can be sovereign on their own….
Europe, however, is a bad player by definition.
We are a soft, regulatory power, after all: the EU was set up as a peace project.
It is about the rule of law, not about undermining it…..
In his book Connectivity, which explores the hybrid conflicts we see nowadays, political analyst Parag Khanna argued that manoeuvring these conflicts requires a great deal of caution of Europe’s leaders.
When everything is connected to everything but you don’t ‘do’ disruption, keeping the balance becomes of utmost importance.
Today, tactics are needed that actually suit Europe – operating cautiously, taking small steps, playing for time, avoiding brusque decisions, and using smart diplomacy to keep as many channels open as possible.
In short, Europe must muddle through.
That looks an awful lot like what we’ve been doing all these years, doesn’t it?
For the full article see the EUObservor.